High Divide Trail, Olympic National Park
I just returned from a week-long trip to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, during which I visited the Quinault Rainforest area, hiked the Lake Ozette-Cape Alava Triangle on the coast, checked out the lavender fields in Sequim, photographed wildflowers and deer at Hurricane Ridge, and spent three days backpacking the High Divide Loop trail in Olympic National Park – which was definitely the highlight of the trip. Totally awesome scenery, great weather and my timing was just right for the wildflowers in the subalpine areas of the Olympic Mountains.
The High Divide Loop is not an easy trail – quite a bit of elevation gain on a rocky, uneven trail – but the scenery is fantastic. Starting in old-growth forest along the Sol Duc River, the trail ascends to subalpine meadows, traverses a ridgeline separating the Seven Lakes Basin from the Bailey Range mountains, then returns to Sol Duc Falls via Deer Lake. Up on the divide, you can look south across the Hoh River Valley to glacier-clad Mount Olympus, and to the north are the alpine tarns of the Seven Lakes Basin – jewel-like remnants of glacial activity surrounded by rocky peaks and coniferous forest.
My first night’s camp at Sol Duc Park was at the edge of a meadow filled with delicate avalanche lilies and corn lily, with a creek running nearby. Late in the evening the backcountry ranger called me over for a glimpse at a bear that had come down from the higher meadows nearby.
Next day, the trail continued climbing, passing aptly-named Heart Lake just before reaching the High Divide. From there, the trail more or less follows a ridgeline, with alternating views of the Bailey Range mountains and the Seven Lakes Basin.
From several vantage points, the trail looks out over the deep Hoh River Valley and across to majestic Mount Olympus. A short side trail goes to the top of Bogachiel Peak, with the reward of a 360 degree view that includes the Bailey Range, Seven Lakes Basin, and north across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island; on a very clear day it’s possible to get a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean far to the west.
Dropping down on the trail into the Seven Lakes Basin, I met a mountain goat and then a deer, both of which came to within about 25 feet of me, while heading for my second night’s campsite overlooking Lunch Lake. Swarms of mosquitos, but what an incredibly beautiful setting.